Deep Breaths

Last night, Leroy was exuberantly running around the house, showing off for my parents.  He was flashing his big pit bull grin when he jumped onto Grandma and Grandpa’s bed, quickly lifted his leg, and peed on their duvet cover.

Bad dog..

Bad dog..

People of the world often anthromorphize these types of behaviors, either by saying something like, “Leroy was being spiteful because I made him take a nap in my bedroom”, or “Leroy felt so sorry after he peed on the bed.  He knew he was wrong.”

Well, people of the world; I can promise you that Leroy made no connection between his earlier nap in my bedroom, nor knew that he had done something wrong.  He was simply interrupted and ran away happily.  WHYYYYY??  Why Leroy??

These are the moments I look at him for .3 seconds and say, “Mommy doesn’t love you anymore”, in the sweetest voice I can muster.  Then he’ll do something so cute, it hurts my heart.  Last night his move was cuddling on the couch between me and his Grandma, and propping his head up on her knee, making the best squishy face that ever did exist.  Falling asleep on her with squinty eyed bliss, even Grandma forgot we were mad at the Pudding.  All returns to normal soon after the incident.

But again! The following morning Leroy wants to push my buttons again!  Leroy darling, I am a patient mamma, but you’re making me crazy!  Though for Leroy, I had to accept that he was not trying to make me crazy.  He was simply stressed out, overwhelmed, and unable to handle the situation.  Between the two barking mongrels across the street that run the barrier of their electric fence, the strange collection of men in the backyard with the landscaping company, and the gaggle of seventeen year old kids playing basketball and roughhousing in the pool; Leroy was like WTF?! And I was like WTF?!  These are the moments when I trust my dear friend Christine to tolerate my mental breakdown.  I text her and say, “I’d like to return Leroy and exchange him for a better dog”.  And she says, “No.  You love him too much.  And no one else wants him”.  This of course, is all in jest.  I wouldn’t give up Leroy if you pried him out of my cold, hard grasp.  He is my true love and favorite creature on this planet.  But still, we all are allowed to go over threshold every once in awhile 😉

It’s going to be a long summer…

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I am constantly reminded to respect Leroy’s limits, as well as my own.  So as I type this, Leroy is in his “Safe Place” of my bedroom.  He was too stressed out watching the big kids play in the pool, plus he needed a nap after our exhilarating afternoon walk.  And yaknow what?  That is OK.  I’d rather keep him safe and calm than push his limits.  I am working to be the best guardian that I can.  That includes knowing when and how to protect my dog from stress.  And even though he drives me crazy, I love him more than words can express.  So I am happy to do this for him.

On a lighter note, we do have an exciting announcement to make!  Check back tomorrow for that 😉   And until then, deep breaths!

If you have any suggestions or force free training articles on how to stop territory marking, please send them my way!  Also, please comment with any questions or topics you would like me to write about.  🙂

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Look at that!

Leroy and I have been working on a command for quite some time.  Sometimes I thought, “Hey, he got it!”.  But most of the time, I felt like he had no clue what it meant.  This command is, “Look at that”.  I am asking Leroy to look for what I’m pointing at or something exciting, and then look back at me.  Jackpot- reward- good boy!  The problem is that what I’m asking him to look at is exciting.  So there may be a cat, bird, screaming tiny human, another dog ect.  And when Leroy sees these things, he goes into crazy dog mode.  We had done a few solid Look at that’s in the past, but it was not very reliable.  Leroy is better at working on this command inside and looking out the back door at the cat.  But once we are outside, things are harder.  However, today we had a wonderful walk!  And it was a warm-spring-fever day with lots of activity around the neighborhood.  GO LEROY!  Leroy is also at week 4 on Prozac, and I think I’m starting to notice subtle differences.  We’ve also been working our butts off with training.  So it’s hard to say what is causing the progress.  But I’d guess a combination of both.

So today on our walk, we had a lot of our “good stuff” training rewards- specifically, a huge chunk of the food roll.    Here is the tally of our walk and what we “failed” or reacted poorly at, and what we “passed” and did a wonderful “look at that” followed by a great “look back at mommy and get tons of food”.

Screaming child #1- Fail.  But just a minor fail.  Leroy doesn’t like screaming tiny humans.  It freaks him out.  He had a minor reactive moment, but we were able to keep it together and walk away in the other direction.

Screaming child # 2 and 3- Pass.  There are a group of kids that play in the culdesac by my apartment.  Bouncing balls and a bike, plus some noise- at a further distance, we passed!

Randomly scattered adult humans- Pass.  Usually Leroy does keep it together when we’re around people.  But if he’s especially worked up or if it’s dark, he can react poorly.  But today we walked around and did great.

Two yappy dogs in their fenced in yard- Pass!  This was a close call, because man were they yappy.  But he sat, did a “Look at that”.  Then we got a little closer and did another “Look at that”.  At this point they had noticed us and started wailing.  But Leroy still looked back at me for a hunk of food- good boy!  Then we hurried past their home.  Not walking wonderfully on the leash, but not freaking out either!

Homeless man in a wheelchair- Pass.  Leroy’s eyes lingered on this for a beat too long.  But he did in fact look back at me with no poor reaction!

Slow moving pack of cats- PASS.  This is huge, huge, for Leroy.  He’s had a few unpleasant run ins with the feline species, and I’ve declared him as “Not good with cats.”  He feels the same way about them, as they do him (see picture).  Luckily, he’s never done any damage!  But we keep them apart anyway 🙂   Normally he would totally loose his cool over cats, especially when they’re moving.  But we saw three sauntering kitties across the street.  And Leroy did an excellent “Look at that”!  He also did great when we saw a sitting kitty who was in a yard we walked pass.

i gotz beaded up bai a kitty

Skateboard- Fail.  Leroy hates the skateboards.  He looked at it, and then he tried to eat it.  Hmpm.  Too much, too soon!

Garbage bags x9- Pass.  It seems like the whole neighborhood did spring cleaning and had their trash out early.  There wasn’t much lunging for smells and crumbs of garbage.  And their also wasn’t any- “Moving plastic bag?!- Attack!”, which has happened in the past.  So very good!

i iz ready fo me yumz yum.

i iz ready fo me yumz yum.

Thanks again to our trainer Michaela at Opportunity Barks!  And good job Leroy 🙂  We will keep working on the “Look at that” command, because it seems to be a great tool to have mastered!

 

If you have any questions about Tofu, becoming a foster parent, or the adoption process- you can email me (Leroy’s mom) at Casey@caseyheyen.com

Sponsor me here!- 5k Race to Rescue

Things That People Don’t Like to Talk About- I Have a Dog with Issues

A few months ago, I talked about some of Leroy’s flaws and the difficulty that presented when I went on a vacation.  While he is of course the apple of my eye, he is also the most challenging dog I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.  I am a dog trainer at PetSmart and have had enough fosters and short term guests to know- Leroy is not your average dog.  He excels at being the Worst Dog at Puppy School; but he typically is one of the smartest and often knows the most commands.  About a year ago, we started training class at Opportunity Barks.  We did one day of Real World Manners, but our amazing trainer Michaela was smart enough to know that Leroy had the whole curriculum mastered.  While it was hard for him to be in a new place around strange dogs, he buzzed past the Watch Me’s and Down’s with ease.  She suggested that we move into a Self Control class to work on well, self control.  He was, as I’ve become used to, the Worst Puppy in school.  But we enjoyed the class and learned a lot.  A year later, we are enrolled in Reactive Rover.  I had a brief moment of excitement- “HEY!  These are all of the Worst Puppies in school!  It’s a class just for them!  Maybe my baby Le Le won’t look like a ‘crazy Pit Bull’.  They will understand!”  Well,  my boy is still the Worst Puppy. 😦  He has epic meltdowns that involve whining, crying, barking, and lunging.  He did this all in Reactive Rover on Week 1, when he was shown the stuffed decoy dog.  Yes- stuffed.

And yes- this is the same dog that I call a “pretty gosh darn excellent foster brother”.  So how does it all fit together? How can he be so patient with fosters but so terrible with an innocent stuffed dog?  How can he be so good at his Sit Stays, but so bad at “keeping his shit together”?!  Well.. I’m going to get to the bottom of it all!

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The first thing that I want to explain is a fancy word called “threshold”.  When Leroy is trying to attack a stuffed animal- barking, whining, lunging- he is over his threshold.  I have been reading about this fancy word and I decided to email our expert trainer, Michaela, because I was a bit confused.  Here is her wonderful insight!

“Threshold” is used to differentiate between the state in which your dog can still “think” and respond vs. when arousal level makes it impossible for them to be responsive.  Neurologically, your dog is using a part of the brain and nervous system that goes with the basic “fight-flight-freeze” survival instinct.  If you imagine yourself, say, responding to a robber in your home, your body goes into survival mode (e.g. pumping adrenaline, etc) and relies heavily on action-not thought.  It’s a more primitive bodily reaction that is important to survival but which actually suppresses the decision making part of the brain.
As a dog’s arousal level rises, you see changes like muscle tension, ear and tail position changes, body weight forward, faster breathing, brief “stillness”, staring and targeting, etc…Once a dog goes “over-threshold”, he’s having a full barking-lunging meltdown, acting purely on survival instinct. Little can be learned in this highly adrenalized state because the “higher thinking” part of the brain is suppressed for optimal survival mode.  So learning must be done sub-threshold (that is, when arousal levels are low to moderate, but not over-the-top).
So, yes, Leroy is challenging because he goes over-threshold very quickly, once outside.  However, he’s making great progress at being able to “come down” more quickly in classes.  I hope this helps a bit!
So there you have it!  Threshold is like ‘fight or flight panic’.  It’s all just too much stress and stimulation for my little Pudding Face to handle.  Therefore he has his special meltdowns and looks like an arse.  😉 Another reason that Leroy has so much trouble doing things outside of his comfort zone is because of his past.  Leroy was a lawn ornament.  He was chained.  We can only speculate on how long and how severe his circumstances were, but we do know that he was found with the heavy burden of his past life.

When he was found, the chain was wrapped around his neck and padlocked closed.

Because of his past as a chained dog, Leroy struggles with something called “Leash Reactivity”.  This is actually a pretty common problem among dogs, but especially an issue with dogs that lived with the long term frustration of being at ‘the end of their chain’ every  day.  Imagine for a moment that you are given an 5 foot  radius to live in.  Then picture a sweet smelling flower, or exciting squirrel, or happy human face- standing right past that boundary.  I would not enjoy that.  So when Leroy is on his leash and I’m not letting him go any further, he feels severe frustration and aggression.  If I wanted to use my imagination a bit more, I would say that maybe his childhood puppyhood memories of a cold lonely yard come flooding back.  And he remembers how terrible it was to be stuck in one place without love or freedom or stuffed kongs.  My point is, I would be unhappy about being on a leash too.

Tofu was also a chained dog.

(pre-rescue) Tofu was also a chained dog

I was worried that Leroy’s general stress level and anxiety was one of the main reasons he was not making any progress.  So I talked to Michaela and she agreed that it was time to see a Veterinarian Behaviorist.  Most trainers or behaviorists that I’ve talked to seem to think that medication is very over-prescribed, and often used by people who are lazy not committed to training.  However, Michaela said that she supported my decision and hoped that it would help.  As it sounds, a vet behaviorist is someone who is both a certified behaviorist and trainer, and a fully registered vet.  The best of both worlds!  So we went to Dr. Reisner for a professional opinion.  Here is Leroy’s list of issues, written by a professional.

DIAGNOSIS:

  1. Generalized anxiety
  2. Resource-guarding
  3. Reactivity/impulsivity
  4. Fear-related aggression
  5. Tentative: Predatory behavior

Holy Issues! I knew Leroy was the Worst Puppy, but gosh.  Dr. Reisner said that she was very impressed with me and Leroy.  We are a good team.  He was a bit of a nut case during our consult (as expected, because it was a new place).  But he was a good boy and listened to my commands and hand signals while I talked to the doctor.  At one point I gave him the hand signal for Quiet- putting my finger to my lips (Leroy was whining like a baby about being in a strange office and not getting enough attention from the doctor).  Dr. Reisner said, “Does he know what that means?”  Leroy was trying very hard to listen to me because I had my trusty treat pouch, and he was sitting silently waiting for his reward.  I thought, “How silly, why would I be doing it if he didn’t know what it means!”  But apparently he proved to her that he is a very smart puppy, even though he was also being the Worst Puppy.

So what happens next?  Dr. Reisner decided that Leroy is in fact a good candidate for medication.  He is currently on 20mg a day of Prozac to help manage his generalized anxiety.  Prozac takes 4-6 weeks to become effective, so we haven’t seen any changes yet.  But I’m keeping a close eye on him for side effects or positive changes. Dr. Reisner also seemed to think that our training skills were really great- not that there isn’t always room for improvement.  This made me proud of my boy but also sad, as he was flopping around the exam room like a stressed and anxious fish out of water.  He was unhappy, as he usually is when we do something new.  He did not enjoy this or find it a fun adventure.  He was stressed.

Above all, I want my dog to be happy.  If he doesn’t like new places or new people or new anything, that’s OK with me.  If he can never happily go on a walk without thinking that the world is out to get him, then we won’t go on walks.  He can stay with me in his “happy place”, also known as my bedroom.  But at the end of the day, I want to know that I gave it my all.  I want to say that “Yes, I have a dog with issues.  I did my best to work through them and make him more comfortable in the big scary world we live in.  I accept him and understand his issues.  And I love him anyway.”

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A big *thank you* to Michaela at Opportunity Barks and Dr. Reisner for all the help and support ❤

Bad Puppy

In general, Jora is past the prime of her puppyhood. And I am very grateful for this! I’ve said before that I am a ‘no puppies allowed’ foster. The first reason I have this policy is simply because I don’t have the time for a puppy. I am a full time MFA student, and I work part time as a dog trainer at petsmart. Therefore, I cringe at the thought of a puppy bladder that can’t be held for my full eight hour days away from home. I also train puppies, and sure they’re ‘cute’, but I like them for sort time periods where they aren’t chewing apart my things. I just am not a person that wanted that in my life! My policy is in effect because truly, I don’t have the time commitment needed for a puppy. So while many people might think I’m a big meanie, I say, “bring on the adult dogs!”

But I digress. When Jora arrived at my house, she was a complete puppy! My worst nightmare. So although she was the cutest little peanut ever, I was just waiting her out until she ate my shoes (check), drove Leroy nuts (every day), had accidents (duh), ate her own poop (this seems to be a personal problem that my fosters have), damaged a few personal items (why not) and won me over with her puppy dog eyes and loving personality (absolutely). So since I was not mentally prepared for this commitment, we had a rough few months. I would bring her to events and dream of yelling, “free puppy!”, until a nice family took her away. I also kept thinking of the only benefit in fostering a puppy- quick adoptions! (We of course are still waiting). So despite our rocky start, Baby J has grown on me as she has grown into a wonderful adolescent dog.

However! Sometimes we all like to get into trouble. 🙂

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Ripped up her dog bed (check)!


Any questions about Jora or the adoption process can emailed to me (Casey, aka Leroy’s mom!) at Casey@caseyheyen.com.  Please share her story with anyone looking for the perfect family companion!